Choosing High School Courses: What You Really Need to Think About

High school offers various courses which are all under different categories. To read more about these different categories, visit our previous post.

There’s several reasons why deciding which classes to take, in high school, can be complicated. The first reason that we covered is students do not know about all the different types of classes that are offered. In this post, we want to encourage students to also consider the specific path they are working towards. Every student has different goals that they wish to achieve with their education and there are specific paths each student can take to achieve these goals. Having an idea of what a student wants to do with their education is very helpful in determining what classes are the most convenient to take. Unfortunately, most students end up taking classes without having a specific reason as to why it would benefit their personal education goals. Every single class taken should have a purpose whether it be to fulfill a credit, explore a field that seems interesting, or advance knowledge in the student’s desired career. Finding what classes will be the most convenient to take can be a struggle at first, but there is one question that students can ask themselves to make this task easier.

As a student, which do you prioritize when it comes to your education: saving time or receiving a quality education? 

Answering this question will help guide the student’s course schedule in high school and even college course schedule. There exists a perfect balance, unique to each student, between receiving a quality education and being efficient with time. Let’s begin by discussing both extremes of the spectrum.

If the student prefers to save time and wants to go to school purely for a degree, then they should consider sitting with a school counselor to find a way to complete all the required credits in the least amount of time possible.

  • With this, some students are able to graduate from high school in three years instead of four.
  • Others leave high school, and instead, study for the General Educational Development (GED) Test which gives certification valued the same as a high school diploma.
  • Other students transfer to a local college to finish their last two years of high school. In those two years, students are able to receive their high school diploma AND an Associate’s degree which essentially covers the first half of college.
  • Within high school, students can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses which can give college credit. However, these credits are usually accepted by “in-state universities” or public universities that are in the same state as the student. *Students who take lots of AP courses and go to a university that is outside their state may not have many credits accepted. Each college/university has its own system for accepting credits on their website.

There are many class options to consider:

  • Regular Classes
  • Honors Classes
  • AP Classes
  • AICE Classes
  • IB Classes
  • Dual Enrollment Classes at a local University (Check with school counselor for all the specific requirements.)
  • AP Classes on Florida Virtual School (FLVS)
  • Full-time Dual Enrollment Program at a local University during the last two years of high school.
    • Miami Dade College offers (SAS) the School for Advanced Studies
    • FIU offers (AAA) the Academy for Advanced Academics
      • It saves you two whole years!

If the student prefers a quality education, even if it means being in school longer, they should consider creating a balanced schedule to make sure their schedule is not overloaded.

In this case, consistency, rather than quantity, is key to gaining the most out of every class.

As a student, consider what general career path you wish to pursue and start thinking about what courses are offered at your school that apply to your desired career.

The good news: If impressing colleges is a concern of yours, a college will notice that you show interest in a particular field when your transcript (list of classes taken) shows consistency in the type of courses you take.

Focus on only taking as many courses as you can handle while still learning.

Take classes that interest you even if they don’t count as a college credit because at the end of the day, your goal was to learn.

There are many class options to consider:

  • Regular Classes
  • Honors classes
  • AP Classes
  • IB Classes 
  • AICE Classes
  • Dual Enrollment classes at a local University (Check with school counselor for all the specific requirements.) 
  • FLVS classes

Most of us want a well-rounded education, but also want to save time when possible:

Here is where I suggest taking the strategies of both extremes to find your perfect balance.

My freshman year, I organized a meeting with my counselor and parents to see what opportunities were being offered at my school and how I could take advantage of them fully. My counselor was extremely helpful and gave me a chart to plan what my next four years would look like. Based on the classes offered at my school, my general career interest, and how hard I was willing to work, we came up with the perfect schedule for me. Throughout high school, I have followed that structure and am glad I did. 

If you feel that you are not completely sure of all the opportunities being offered to you, please visit your counselors. That is what they are there for!

Regardless of what you answered to my question, I advice everyone to challenge themselves. For some students, this means taking more difficult courses. For others, this means stepping back and trying not to overwhelm themselves.

Every student is different and I cannot stress how important it is for you to sit down and take the time to understand your goals and base your decisions off these goals. 

The School Bell Blog wishes you good luck!

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*The School Bell Blog is not associated with any other programs mentioned. This blog serves as a resource of information that may or may not apply to the readers and it is up to each individual reader to verify the information on their own. For verification on what opportunities are available to you and for formal help, please see your school counselors. The School Bell Blog encourages everyone to do their own research before taking the information stated here as fact. Thank you.

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Free Summer Programs

In celebration of the start of summer, here is a list of FREE summer programs you can apply to next school year.

They main takeaway from this is to find something you’re passionate about and go pursue it. Summer programs are a great way to do this, but they aren’t the only way. There’s tons of other options, but I never imagined there were this many summer programs for pursuing your dreams for FREE.

Please look through these and try to find something that interests you. If you cannot find a convenient program here, go search for another one or make the opportunity that best suits your career goals. You do not have to wait until college to start pursuing your career!

Here are other reasons to consider applying to a summer program:


The sooner you gain experience in your field, the sooner you really know if you’ll enjoy that path. This saves you time and will only make you more competitive because you will have been involved for a longer amount of time in something you are passionate about.


Summer programs are not necessary, but they’re a huge advantage in the college application process. Colleges want to know that you are productive during the summer too. Whether it’s a job, summer classes, a sport, or a summer camp, do something! Summer programs are particularly advantageous because they show extra interest in your career path.


 I didn’t consider summer programs for a long time because I thought I couldn’t afford to go to one. Little did I know there’s a ton of colleges that start initiatives to give first generation, low income students more opportunities. Now there are hundreds of free programs for all interests and situations. You can do a program in the state, all over the country, and even abroad. There’s programs specifically for students like you and I to get exposed to the college experience and take college level courses in anything you want to study. Some give you college credit and some even pay YOU. I want you to remember that YOU HAVE OPTIONS and your economic situation does not need to limit your opprtunities! 

Lastly, I want you guys to believe in yourselves. I applied to several programs this year and never expected a response. I was accepted into several and waitlisted into others. It is not impossible! You guys need to have faith and remember that you lose nothing by applying. Applying to any of the programs on this list is FREE!

*A stipend is a sum of money that some summer camps give you to cover expenses

*Unless stated, everything in this list can be assumed to be free

The list of free summer programs:

Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (STEM) Programs

Girls Who Code

  • Computer Science
  • Location: Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus (MDC) in Miami, FL
  • Seven weeks
  • Female rising juniors or seniors
  • “Each week of the program covers projects related to computer science, such as art, storytelling, robotics, video games, web sites, and apps.”
  • Stipends cover transportation

VITAL Construction Research

  • Computer Programming 
  • Location: Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, Florida
  • Two weeks
  • Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors
  • “For 10th – 12th graders interested in computer programming, 3D modelling, animations, and construction.”

Young Scholars Program

  • Location: Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, Florida
  • Six weeks
  • Rising seniors (and very few rising juniors)
  • “The Young Scholars Program (YSP) is a six-week residential science and mathematics summer program for Florida high school students with significant potential for careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) High School Scholars Program

  • Laboratory Research
  • Location: University of Miami (UM) in Miami, FL
  • Seven weeks
  • Rising seniors
  • “Placements are available in areas such as biology, biomedical engineering, neuroscience, ophthalmology, and other research areas.”
  • Stipends to cover transportation

Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science (SAMS)

  • Science and Engineering or Computer Science
  • Location: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Six weeks
  • Rising seniors and juniors
  • “Carnegie Mellon is committed to expanding the pool of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who want to pursue STEM disciplines.”

*A nonrefundable commitment deposit is required upon acceptance to the program.


  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Location: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Three weeks
  • Rising juniors and seniors
  • “Carnegie Mellon AI4ALL provides rising high school juniors and seniors, with a strong interest in computer science, the opportunity to utilize artificial intelligence to address problems of probabilistic and numeric nature.”

*A nonrefundable commitment deposit is required upon acceptance to the program

Inspiring girls expedition

  • Science, art, and wilderness exploration
  • Two weeks
  • Female,15-17 years old
  • Several expeditions to choose from: Girls on Ice Alaska, Girls on Rock, Girls on Ice Cascades, Girls on Water, etc.
  • “We are looking for girls who bring a unique contribution to the team: we want to hear your story!”

Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES)

  • Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts 
  • Six weeks
  • Rising seniors
  • Take the following courses at the summer program: one math course, one life sciences course, one physics course, a humanities course and an elective course. 
  • “This national program stresses the value and reward of pursuing advanced technical degrees and careers while developing the skills necessary to achieve success in science and engineering.”

MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC)
*not a summer program

  • Six months (summer before senior year to the end of the first semester of senior year)
  • Three phases: 
    • Academic Phase- take two online courses, create science projects, and meet virtually with mentors
    • Conference Phase- students attend a five day conference at MIT to present their projects 
    • Enrichment Phase where students interact with faculty and researchers to write for online blogs.
  • “The six-month MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) program serves rising high school seniors from across the country – many of whom come from underrepresented or underserved communities.”

*Transportation to MIT and back, for the conference, is the only cost students must pay

Civic Leadership

Young Leaders Summit (YSL)

  • Location: University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois
  • Four days
  • Rising seniors
  • “It is designed to give these young leaders the practical tools they need to successfully apply to top universities, have full access to scholarship and financial aid opportunities, and set a course for academic and career success.”

Student Leaders

  • Location: 
    • Students will first travel to Washington D.C for a summit 
    • Students will then go back to their city for the rest of the program and work at a local non-profit in a PAID internship
  • Eight weeks
  • Rising seniors or seniors graduating
  • Sponsored by Bank of America 
  • “. . . you will learn valuable civic, social and business leadership skills. Each Student Leader will attend the Student Leaders Summit held in Washington, D.C. where you will learn how government, business and the nonprofit sector work together to address critical community needs.”

Youth Collaboratory
*not a summer program

  • Location: three different locations in the U.S
  • One year
  • Current sophomores and juniors
  • Workshops on becoming citizen leaders
  • Sponsored by Citizen University 
  • “24 highly-motivated students from around the country will join Citizen University and travel to cities around the nation, meeting leading civic innovators, sharpening their literacy in citizen power and producing their own independent projects in their communities.”

Caminos Al Futuro

  • Location: George Washington University in Washington D.C
  • Three weeks
  • Rising seniors
  • “Caminos scholars examine the social, economic, and political transformations affecting the Hispanic/Latino community. Through lectures by university professors and expert leaders in their fields, scholars not only learn about pressing contemporary issues but also create their own project to bring change in their own communities.”

Alexander Hamilton Scholars *not a summer program

  • Location: several cities such as New York, Seattle, Texas, etc.
  • Five years
  • Current juniors
  • Individual support and mentoring 
  • Program is based on five pillars of success: Transition, Heritage, Empowerment, Financial Literacy, and Leadership
  • Each conference is dedicated to achieving different goals from senior year to the end of college
  • $500 scholarship
  • “Our vision is to build leaders of character who will improve our nation and our world through their service, innovation, and excellence.”


Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS)

  • Location: Cornell University in Ithaca, New York or University of Michigan in Ann Harbor, Michigan
  • Rising juniors
  • Six weeks
  • Each location holds its own program with different content
  • “We work with university faculty to create exciting courses designed to inspire young people to explore the the histories, politics and cultural experiences of people of African descent and a variety of other topics.”

Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)

  • Location: Cornell University in Ithaca, New York or University of Michigan in Ann Harbor, Michigan or University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland
  • Rising Seniors
  • Six weeks
  • Each location holds its own program with different content
  • “Each program is designed to bring together young people from around the world who share a passion for learning. Telluride students, or TASPers, attend a seminar led by college and university scholars and participate in many other educational and social activities outside the classroom.”

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)

  • Cultural and language immersion 
  • Six to Eight weeks
  • Different Language Programs: 
    • Learn Arabic in Morocco
    • Learn Chinese in Taiwan or China
    • Learn Hindi in India
    • Learn Indonesian in Indonesia
    • Learn Korean in South Korea
    • Learn Persian in Tajikistan
    • Learn Russian in Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, or Russia
    • Learn Turkish in Turkey
  • Each program has different age requirements
  • “All students will be enrolled in language classes and will receive at least 120 hours of classroom language instruction during the program. Students will participate in a variety of cultural activities designed to enhance their language skills.”

Princeton Summer Journalism Program

  • Journalism
  • Location: Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey
  • Rising Seniors
  • Ten days
  • “Classes at the program are taught by program alumni and reporters and editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, Politico, Sports Illustrated and CNN, among other media outlets. Students also have the opportunity to tour major news organizations, such as The New York Times, Huffington Post and Bloomberg; cover a professional sports event; cover news events in the Princeton area; film and produce a short documentary; attend a film or theatre production; conduct an investigative project; author a group blog; and report, write, edit and design their own newspaper, The Princeton Summer Journal, which is published on the program’s last day.”

Yale Young Global Scholars
*this program is not free, but by applying to the Young Leaders (YL) Scholarship, it can be completely free.

  • Ten types of sessions:
    • Applied Science & Engineering (ASE)
    • International Affairs & Globalization (IAG)
    • Sustainable Development & Social Entrepreneurship (SDSE)
    • Frontiers of Science & Technology (FST)
    • Literature, Philosophy, & Culture (LPC)
    • Politics, Law, & Economics (PLE)
    • Biological & Biomedical Science (BBS)
    • Creative Arts & Media (CAM)
    • Politics, Law, & Economics (PLE)
    • YYGS-Beijing: Asia in the 21st Century (ATC)
  • Location: Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
  • Two weeks
  • Rising juniors and seniors
  • Experience college-style learning
  • “Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) is a summer academic enrichment and leadership program for outstanding high school students from around the world. Each summer, students from over 100 countries participate in one of nine interdisciplinary sessions and immerse themselves in a global learning community.”

College preparation

These programs sometimes last longer than a summer. They guide you through the college application process, prepare you to go to amazing schools, and create support systems for low-income students.

SCS Noonan

  • Location: Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Six year guidance program 
    • Six week summer program
  • Offers Pre-College Counseling, Test Prep, Financial Scholarships, Individual College Support, Mentorship, Career Development, and Access to a Network for Internships and Jobs.
  • “To realize this vision, SCS Noonan Scholars employs a holistic, comprehensive program to ensure our Scholars have the key opportunities they need from their junior year in high school through college graduation, and into their first job.”

Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA)

  • Location: Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.
  • Six year program
    • Seven week summer program
  • Offers intense test-prep, writing classes, college guidance, mentorship, leadership skills, college visits, financial aid planning, and coverage of several fees.
  • “Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) empowers a community of exceptional young leaders from under-resourced backgrounds by supporting their higher education and professional success in order to create a more inclusive and equitable country.”

Quest Bridge Prep Scholars
*not a summer program

  • Be invited to an optional conference with 40 of the best colleges and universities in the country (travel expenses may or may not be paid)
  • Location: conferences are in several cities in the U.S
  • Provides resources to help you prepare for the college application process
  • Access to an online community of other Prep Scholars 
  • As a College Prep Scholar, you will receive exclusive awards and opportunities to develop a strong college application that shares your unique story. 

USC Bovard Scholars

  • Location: University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California
  • Three weeks
  • Rising seniors
  • Offers test preparation, insight into the admissions process, writing preparation, and help developing a plan for your career goals
  • “USC established Bovard Scholars to empower outstanding high school students with financial need to dream big. We help you reach higher.”

College Point
*not a summer program

  • Virtual help with the college application process
  • Current juniors
  • Partner with the following organizations: ACT, College Advising Corps, College Board, College Possible, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Matriculate, ScholarMatch, and uAspire
  • “CollegePoint will match a student with an advisor who provides personalized college application and financial aid support.”

If none of these programs work for you, try making your own opportunities and get to working on your goals this summer. Good luck!

Happy Summer!

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*The School Bell Blog is not associated with any of the programs mentioned. All information is subject to change based on updates by the all mentioned institutions. The School Bell Blog encourages students to consult with their counselors and do their own research to confirm the information stated above. Any and all content posted on the School Bell Blog should not be taken as fact without further investigation. Thank you.

Please email me with any questions or requests for posts:

Deciding what classes to take

Picking classes for the next school year, also known as subject selection, can be very confusing because of all the different types of classes and unusual names they have. Choosing between so many options for classes and different levels of difficulty can be overwhelming so here is a basic breakdown of all the main types of classes:


  • Usually the easiest choice
  • Does not raise weighted GPA
  • Amount of homework varies by school
  • These classes will likely bring down your weighted GPA if it is above a 4.0. Don’t know what GPA is? Check out our posts that explain it!


  • A bit more rigorous than Regular classes
  • A bit faster paced than Regular classes
  • Raises weighted GPA
  • Amount of homework varies by school
  • Course material will delve deeper into topics of the class

Advanced Placement (AP):

  • AP classes are often the equivalent to an introductory college-level class in that specific subject area
  • Here is a list of all the official AP classes that are offered
  • Raises weighted GPA
  • Rigorous and entail a large workload
  • Move at a very fast pace
  • Learning will oftentimes be self-directed and require frequent independent studying
  • TIP: Take as many AP classes as you, personally, can handle. For example, you should not take an excessive amount of AP classes if in the end you cannot study enough to pass all the final exams.
  • Your school will probably require you to take the AP exam at the end of the year for each AP class you choose to take
  • Some schools pay for AP exams, however, you will want to check with your counselor to make sure your school will pay for your exams
  • You can take some AP courses through FLVS if they are not offered at your school and you still want to take it. ***However, this recommendation is for students who find themselves to be independent learners. ***FLVS will pay for your AP exams
  • AP Exam Score Range: 1-5

International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • Their rigor is divided into different levels
    • Standard Level (SL)
    • Higher Level (HL)
  • Here is a list of all the official IB classes that are offered
  • Raises weighted GPA
  • Unlike AP classes, which are taught through the American College Board, the IB curriculum is the same throughout the world and is offered in 140 nations worldwide
  • Usually for students in an IB Diploma program at their school (there will soon be a post explaining the IB Diploma program in more detail)
  • IB Exam Score Range:
    • 1-7 for Subjects
    • E-A for Theory of Knowledge (TOK) & Extended Essay (EE)

Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE)

  • Broken up into two categories:
    • AS – Advanced Subsidiary
    • A – Advanced
  • Here is a list of all the official AICE classes that are offered
  • Raises weighted GPA
  • Exams are broken up in to various sections that can vary from written examination to submission projects that you work on throughout the year (these sections depend on the class)
  • Usually for students in an AICE Diploma Program at their school (there will soon be a post explaining the AICE Diploma program in more detail)
  • Exam scores are determined by “Grade Thresholds” and range from A-E (each class has its own grading scale)

Dual Enrollment:

  • These are classes taken at a local college
    • Example: Miami-Dade College or Florida International University
    • Some high schools offer Dual Enrollment courses. Check with your school counselor to find out if your high school offers any dual enrollment courses so you don’t have to take it outside of normal school hours.
  • Your principal and guidance counselor must approve these courses
  • Has to be outside of school hours, often in the evening or night
  • Can take up to two per semester
  • To qualify to take these courses, you will have to take the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT). The exam will test you on math and reading comprehension skills. Here is the link to Free PERT practice. ***This does not apply if you have taken the SAT and can report a score
  • Here is a link to the list of approved MDC Dual Enrollment Courses and FIU Dual Enrollment Courses
  • Final grade will be based off tests and quizzes without much homework to boost your grade like in a high school class. Make sure you study and are prepared for tests!
  • For more information on how to register for the classes make sure to visit your counselor because there is some paperwork is required to register
  • Transportation to these classes will not be provided and must be arranged
  • TIP: If you plan on attending a college in Florida, take advantage of dual enrollment courses to earn credits. This will save you money in the long run because most colleges in Florida accept these credits.
  • TIP: If you want to raise your weighted GPA, take dual enrollment courses (especially during the summer when you have less to worry about).
  • ***In my experience, dual enrollment classes have been easier than my AP classes, but it’s different for everybody.
  • ***Middle School students can take Dual Enrollment Courses if they are taking any high school class.


  • Does not fall into a category because you can take any level class: Regular, Honors, or Advanced Placement (AP) using this online program
  • Can take up to two classes at a time
  • Great for taking classes that are not available in your school or to clear up space in your school schedule
  • If you take an AP course through FLVS, they will pay for your exam

Hopefully, this post helps you understand all the types of classes and their different levels of difficulty. We hope this makes subject selection easier for you all!

Meet the authors of this post!

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*The School Bell Blog is not associated with any of the programs mentioned. All information is subject to change based on updates by any programs mentioned. The School Bell Blog encourages students to consult with their counselors and do their own research to confirm the information stated above and choose the classes best suited for their needs.

Please email me with any questions or requests for posts:

Five Companies that are giving Scholarships

Think about how many corporations you have interacted with today. Did you shop anywhere or eat at a fast food restaurant? Did you buy a drink from a vending machine or use your cellphone? Chances are, the companies and services you use and pay for daily, offer a scholarship for high school seniors. There is money surrounding us everyday and we don’t even know it. Money that YOU could be saving on that shiny Bachelor’s degree. Here are five scholarships:

It’s important to start thinking about what options are available to pay for college. The School Bell Blog hopes you find this post helpful for planning scholarship applications in the future.


Attention McChicken lovers! Ronald McDonald is giving away the HACER National Scholarship. The Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) awards $100,000 to five students even year. The requirements:

  • Must be a legal U.S resident
  • Must have a minimum 2.7 GPA
  • Must be a high school senior
  • Must have Hispanic/Latino heritage
  • Must be eligible to attend some form of higher education after high school
  • Must be under 21 years of age.
  • Mainly based on financial need


Coca Cola

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has something even sweeter to offer than their sodas. Each year, 150 applicants are selected to be awarded a $20,000 scholarship. The requirements:

  • Must be a U.S citizen or a U.S permanent resident (there are other exceptions to this on their website)
  • Must be a high school senior
  • Must receive a high school diploma during the school year you apply
  • Must be planning to pursue higher education in a U.S institution.



This one is for all the athletes! The scholarship does NOT require you to continue playing sports during college. You also do not have be in a varsity team to be considered. A total of 20 high school seniors will be selected throughout the nation to be awarded $20,000. The requirements:

  • Must have a 3.0 GPA
  • Must be high school senior
  • Must be a member of some sport
  • They are looking for students who show leadership in their sport, school, and community!


Taco Bell

In 2018, the Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship awarded $1 million dollars in scholarships to a total of 100 applicants. You must send a 2 minute video explaining your passions and goals with regards to a career. It is a great opportunity for students who feel their charisma supersedes their writing skills, to express their story in the most authentic way possible. The requirements:

  • Must be a legal U.S resident
  • Must be between the ages of 16-24
  • Must have the intention to or already be enrolled in a post-secondary program for higher education. 
  • If you are selected to be a recipient, you must agree to work for the Taco Bell Foundation Scholarship’s Management Company for the duration of the award process



The Macy’s Hispanic Scholarship Fund is open to high school seniors, undergraduate students, AND graduate students! Although this scholarship focuses on STEM majors, all other majors are welcomed to apply. The amount awarded is based on need. The requirements:

  • Must be a permanent legal U.S resident
  • Must have a 3.0 GPA if high school student
  • Must have a 2.5 GPA if undergraduate/ graduate student
  • Must be of Hispanic Heritage
  • Must have the intention to or already be enrolled in a college or university
  • Must be a permanent legal resident
  • Must complete the FAFSA or state based financial aid application


*The School Bell Blog is not associated with any of the corporations mentioned. All information is subject to change based on updates by any institutions mentioned. The School Bell Blog encourages students to consult with their counselors and do their own research to confirm the information stated above.

Please email me with any questions or requests for posts:

Everything GPA

GPA. It’s just a number, but it can make all the difference between getting into a college or not.

So what is it?

GPA stands for “Grade Point Average”. It’s a point system that averages all the grades you received during high school into two numbers: weighted GPA and unweighted GPA. These two numbers are used to measure your academic success in your high school career. It’s important for three things: college, ranks, and scholarships.

The two types of GPA: Unweighted and Weighted.

Unweighted GPA– An average of all the letter grades received in high school level courses.

Answers the question: Did you get good grades?

Weighted GPA– The same as unweighted GPA PLUS bonus points to account for taking difficult classes such as Honors classes, AP classes, Dual Enrollment, and IB or AICE classes.

Answers the question: Did you challenge yourself and take difficult classes?

Colleges look at both unweighted and weighted GPA to see how committed you were to always doing well in school. A high SAT score, alone, won’t get you admitted. Colleges want to know that you’re capable of working hard consistently for years, not just a month before a test. Don’t know what the SAT is? Click on one of the posts below!

*GPA is one of the most important factors in your college application process!

Ranks: Every school does this differently, but just about every high school uses both GPA’s to organize each graduating class in order of highest GPA to lowest. This is then used to determine who is in the top of the class to receive special honors during graduation. 

*Colleges also look at your rank

Valedictorian: highest honor of academic achievement, typically the student with the highest weighted GPA (some schools have multiple which are then co-valedictorians).

Salutatorian: second highest honor of academic achievement, typically the student with the second highest weighted GPA (some schools have multiple which are then co-salutatorians).

Summa Cum Laude: top 5% of the graduation class

Magna Cum Laude: top 6-10% of the graduating class

Cum Laude: top 11-15% of the graduating class

Scholarships usually have a minimum GPA you need in order to be eligible. Most Miami-Dade County students will apply for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. There are two categories within this program:

-Florida Academic Scholarship (FAS) requires at least a 3.50 weighted GPA

-Florida Medallion Scholarship (FMS) requires at least a 3.00 weighted GPA

*Always make sure that your GPA meets the requirements for a scholarship you want to apply for. 

***Tip on raising your weighted GPA quickly
I have found the quickest way to doing this is through Dual Enrollment courses

These courses typically last a semester (two grading periods) or less and carry the same weight as a rigorous AP which takes much more commitment.

How do I find my GPAs?

Log in to your student portal account and click on the purple “Report Card” icon.

Once you are there, click on the “GPA” tab to find both your GPA’s.

College Application tip: Don’t make the mistake of trying to cheat the system and getting a 4.0 GPA by taking the easiest classes possible. This is why weighted GPA exists. It’s better to have a relatively high unweighted GPA and a weighted GPA that shows you challenged yourself.

***Important message for middle schoolers!

If you are taking any high school classes in middle school (Ex. Algebra 1, Physical Science, etc) your grades WILL count towards your high school GPA. 

I wish I knew how important this would be when I got to high school. I’ve had to make up for it by taking more challenging classes now. Don’t make the same mistake! 

With this in mind, if you are offered a high school class, wait until you feel prepared to succeed in that class. Your GPA will thank you later.

How do Miami Dade County Public Schools generally calculate GPA? 

The following will be based on a 4.0 system.

 The standard grading scale (unweighted GPA) is based on:

4.0-A, 3.0-B, 2.0-C, 1.0-D, and 0.0-F

Regular level courses are graded on this standard scale.

For weighted GPA:

 Students enrolled in Honors Courses receive one bonus point if they earn a grade of “A,” “B,” or “C” in the course. 

5.0-A, 4.0-B, 3.0-C, 1.0-D, 0.0-F

Students enrolled in AP, IB, AICE, and Dual Enrollment courses receive two bonus points if they earn an “A” or “B” in the course and one bonus point if they earn a “C” in the course.

6.0-A, 5.0-B, 3.0-C, 1.0-D, 0.0-F

*Please see your counselor to find out what GPA calculation system your high school uses.

For more information visit

Most colleges will recalculate your GPA and only include your academic courses! This means elective classes such as art or music, will not count towards your GPA in their calculation unless it’s an academic elective like Human Geography. 

Here is how a few Florida colleges recalculate GPA:

Florida State University (FSU)

  • only includes academic classes
  • the new system for AP, IB, AICE, and Dual Enrollment:
  • 5.0-A, 4.0-B, 3.0-C, 1.0-D, 0.0-F    (added 1 point for all grades C and up)
  • the new system for Honors, Pre-IB, and Pre-AICE:
  • 4.5-A, 3.5-B, 2.5-C, 1.0-D, 0.0-F     (added 0.5 points for all grades C and up)

University of Florida (UF)

  • only includes academic classes
  • adds bonus points for Honors, Dual-Enrollment, AICE, AP, and IB, but does not specify how much

University of Central Florida (UCF)

  • only includes academic classes
  • the new system for AP, IB, AICE, and Dual Enrollment:
  • 5.0-A, 4.0-B, 3.0-C, 1.0-D, 0.0-F    (added 1 point for all grades C and up)
  • the new system for Honors, Pre-IB, and Pre-AICE:
  • 4.5-A, 3.5-B, 2.5-C, 1.0-D, 0.0-F     (added 0.5 points for all grades C and up)

*All information is subject to change based on updates by the county and all other mentioned institutions. The School Bell Blog encourages students to consult with their counselors and do their own research to confirm the information stated above.

Please email me with any questions or requests for posts:

SAT: The Main Questions

Most of us have heard the phrase “SAT”, but don’t really know when to take it, how to prepare for it, or why it’s important. SAT stands for “Scholastic Aptitude Test” and no, it isn’t an IQ test. It is a common exam high school students take to be able to send their scores to American Universities they are applying to. It is supposed to measure what you learned in high school, to predict your success in college. Performing well on this exam can mean more options when choosing a college and even more scholarship opportunities. Most colleges do require that you take this exam and report your score in their application. However, you should check the specific requirements for any college or university you are interested in, as each could have different requirements.

What’s on the Test?

Reading: 52 Questions 65 Minutes 

This portion of the test is all multiple choice and based on passages they provide you. Reading tests always include one classic literature piece, one significant historical document, one selection in social science, and two science-related passages.

Writing and Language: 44 Questions 35 Minutes

This portion of the test is all multiple choice and based on passages they provide you. You will mainly be correcting grammatical mistakes, word choice, and other errors such as sentence placement.

The result of both are combined.

Mathematics: 58 Questions 80 Minutes

The first 20 questions are without a calculator, the next 38 are with a calculator.In each half of the mathematics part, there will a few questions that require you to handwrite an answer instead of pick a choice. The rest of the questions will be multiple choice. Questions will cover topics up to material taught in Algebra 2.

Essay: 1 Question 50 Minutes

According to the College Board, this is the usual prompt given on the SAT:

“Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.”

This portion of the exam is not required. When you register to take the exam, you must state whether or not you will be taking the SAT with an essay portion. Although most colleges today do not require you to take the essay portion, there are still some exceptions. It is advised to have an idea of the schools you want to apply to so you can check if they have the essay as a requirement before taking the SAT.

*Don’t worry! You get breaks throughout the test!

How do I register?

First, you have to make an account with Once you have your account, search for a “Complete Your SAT Registration” icon to begin registration.

When should I take it?

It is advised to have at least completed Algebra 2 in your high school classes, to be prepared for the Mathematics portion. Students usually begin taking the SAT in their third or junior year of high school, but you can start earlier or later. Once you feel that you are academically prepared, feel free to sign up!

 Do I have to pay? How much does the SAT cost?

You are eligible for an SAT Fee Waiver if:

  • You are eligible for free or reduced lunch 
  • You receive public/government assistance
  • You are an orphan/ward of the state
  • Your income falls within the guide lines below:

The SAT Fee Waiver Includes:

  • Two free SAT tests with/without essay
  • Two Question-and-Answer (QAS) or Student Answer Service (SAS) reports. (These basically report to you the types of test questions on your SAT and how you answered them. You can use this to prepare for a second try.)
  • Unlimited free score reports
  • Coverage of the late registration fee
  • Six free subject tests (A post explaining these is coming up)
  • College Application Fee Waivers (unlimited as long as you are choosing from their list of 2,000+ schools)
  • Coverage of fees for students testing internationally
  • Fee waivers to apply for nonfederal financial aid

If you are not eligible for the waiver, an SAT exam usually costs about $65 with an essay and $48 without an essay. This number can change if you register late, change the date of your test, etc.

How do I get an SAT Fee Waiver?

Visit your high school counselor/ CAP advisor for help on getting your fee waiver.

How do I prepare for the exam?


Khan Academy offers one of the best resources to practice for the SAT. For free, you can create an account, create a personalized schedule for short daily practice, and take up to 8 full-practice tests. Based on what questions you get wrong in the full-tests, they recommend specific practices for you.

*These exams are also available in print-out version on the college board website if your eyes get tired from using the computer.


  • Companies that offer SAT Books with Practice Tests:
    • Kaplan
    • The Princeton Review
    • Barron’s
  • Prep Courses:
    • Kaplan
    • The Princeton Review 
    • Manhattan Review
  • Personal Tutoring Sessions

*The SAT exam can be taken unlimitedly and remember that universities always choose your highest grade and even some colleges combine your highest scores in each section and combine it to create a super score.

We wish you Good Luck!

*Disclaimer: All content posted by School Bell Blog is subject to change and should be verified either through personal research or through a qualified counselor, before taken as fact.